Brett Miller affixes a new rack to Warfighter Outfitters’ Jeep. photo by Jim Cornelius
Brett Miller affixes a new rack to Warfighter Outfitters’ Jeep. photo by Jim Cornelius

Warfighter Outfitters was born in Sisters and operates out of here - but its reach extends far beyond Central Oregon.

In 2016, the nonprofit served "just a hair over 2,000 veterans," according to founder Brett Miller, himself a combat-wounded veteran of the war in Iraq.

Warfighter Outfitters (www.facebook.com/warfighteroutfitters) was founded by veterans and is run by veterans to provide fellow veterans with the opportunity to get into the outdoors and pursue activities they love - despite troubled times and injuries.

The organization offers three types of experience: hunting trips; fishing; and "engagement missions." Wounded veterans, many working through post-traumatic stress, come from all over the country to connect with each other and with activities that make them feel alive and engaged.

Miller explained the engagement missions: "Basically it's a sweat-equity service project. It's like a working vacation."

Warfighter Outfitters partners up with agencies like the Border Patrol and the National Parks Service to engage in projects that allow the veterans to do useful work and "work as a team again" as they did in the military.

The engagement missions last year included well-clearing and other work along the Arizona-Mexico border (covered in The Nugget, March 23, 2016) and rebuilding bison corrals at Yellowstone National Park. While at Yellowstone, the veterans were granted special permission to fish on a lake that was closed to other boats.

"We fished Yellowstone Lake for the big lake trout," Miller recalled. "We were the only boat out there at that time of year."

Warfighter Outfitters will lead another engagement mission in 2017 to the Grand Canyon, where they'll rebuild campgrounds under the auspices of the National Parks Service.

Thanks to several grants and in-kind donations Warfighter Outfitters is well-equipped, with a jet boat, a drift boat, a couple of large trucks for towing and carrying personnel, and a set of trax that allow a Jeep to get into the snow-laden backcountry.

Miller recently defied the heavy snowfall of the season to take some veterans ice fishing.

"We were able to get out to Round Lake and drill some holes in the ice," he said.

The specially equipped Jeep has been a bit of a fundraiser lately. Miller recounted how a Marine veteran neighbor and he responded to retrieve a passenger vehicle stuck in deep snow. That effort earned Warfighter Outfitters a $300 donation from a grateful motorist.

Miller has found that fishing from the jet boat is a more viable proposition for many of the veterans than the more labor-intensive and physically demanding fly-fishing driftboat trips. While Warfighter Outfitters will continue to offer fly-fishing, they are shifting focus to offer more jet-boat excursions, which can accommodate more people at one time and are easier for those with physical limitations to navigate.

"We're going to try and get a bigger jet boat," Miller said. "I know it sounds funny, but after all we've done and our population now, we're taking six guys - and that boat (the current one) is a little small."

While Warfighter Outfitters is rich in equipment, it's still a small outfit, and there is an ongoing need for cash donations to cover gas, licensing and permits, and other expenses (see sidebar story, at left). The organization continues to need support from the local community to continue work that is having a major positive impact on the lives of veterans who have been injured in service to their country.